Jarvis Sheffield Interview

A few years back I ran into Jarvis Sheffield on the internet. Fortunately neither of us were injured. At that time he asked me to join his merry band of mischief makers in the Black Science Fiction Society. After confirming that he understood I was severely low on melanin, I did. And I was glad I did. I have met creators from all over the world who share similar goals with me, want to cooperate rather than contend with other creators. People who will share their knowledge and their support freely.
Since then he and I have become friends in the real world as well.

Before you delve into the interview I’d simply say that when he walks into a room the aggregate IQ increases by ten points. So get ready to share some time with one smart, and fascinating, dude. Also, just FYI, he works harder than Saruman’s orcs and does so willingly.

Nisi Shawi, of Tor Magazine, talks often about how black people have been creating science fiction, and other related works, since the late 19th century. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s, and the advent of Afrofuturism, that it started to get mainstream recognition. When did you decide to enhance those voices and begin Black Science Fiction Society?
The concept of Black Science Fiction Society began as an idea in 2004 when I bought the domain name. I didn’t formalize an actual website until ten years ago on March 8,2008. I pulled together all of the books, comics and videos I could find into one place so that Black Science Fiction could be easily found online. I felt the need to BE the CHANGE I wanted to see in the industry and not just complain about what others were or were not doing. So, we started the process of building from 20 members to over 11, 000.

While early black sci-fi & fantasy works were utopian in their focus, a world of equality for all, much has changed since then. What do you feel are some of the more important themes being explored today?
I enjoy the utopian themes the most, especially the recent Black Panther movie. It featured a high-tech, self-sufficient country with a Black royal family. In contrast, Blacks have suffered so much and felt the sting of loss to a degree that it is a common reality.
For example, in movies minorities frequently are sidekicks, sex toys, the bad guys, self-sacrificing for whites, the first to die or they are less than normal in some way. Blacks and other races observe this on screen and accept it as the norm. With that said, art/media in all forms can be therapeutic.
Black Sci Fi can be that therapy for many by deconstructing the damage negative stereotypes perpetuate by offering positive alternatives. Hero themes for instance, like Men in Black, I am Legend, Blade, Returned, Black Lighting, Star Trek Discovery or The Dark Tower. Also, I like the themes that involve liberation. Movies like The Brother from Another Planet, Attack on The Block and Get Out.

There is so much oppression going on in the world such as sex trafficking, slavery, war, genocide and bigotry which is a shame. The genre themes I mentioned may help spark a desire to see themselves do something about the world’s problems in real life and enable some to rise above their current circumstances.
I can’t go without stating that I appreciate independently produced books, video and comics just as much as mainstream.
Independent works are featured at BlackScienceFictionSociety every month. I encourage everyone to support independent creators. Many of them have stories with quality on par or greater than what Hollywood produces. Most have not been able to secure the financial backing to see their work realized on the big screen.
As a teacher how difficult is it for you to get your students to appreciate the history of black science fiction?
I actually work with students that are very receptive towards the genre. A high percentage of them are either engineering, science or art majors. They’re already wired for what could be and have a strong interest in effecting change. I enjoy facilitating these young minds to possibilities and encourage them to apply what they learn to themselves to benefit the community.

As the manager of Imagineering Lab Makerspace Space at Tennessee State University, as part of your doctoral candidacy, you have helped develop the idea that online gaming is an important learning tool. How did that come about and what real world uses can you share with us?
Actually, those are two different animals. The Lab is job related while the research is personal. The online gaming technology interest came about 8 yrs ago while doing research for a class project in my Master’s Degree program. I earned my Master’s Degree in the field of Education focusing on Instructional Technology.
This focused on how to best integrate tech into learning environments. Real world uses can involve medical training, military training, crime reenactment, mental health and interactive museums and advertisements. It really is in a fledgling state with possibilities in virtually all fields over time.

The Black Science Fiction Society has almost twelve thousand followers on Facebook, and even more on its website. Clearly there’s a need for what you offer. What are the biggest challenges you see creators of color facing today?
Our social media has the biggest numbers at this point. The main site has less (over 5000) but the registered members get a different, more personal, experience. So far the biggest challenges involve financing, marketing and functioning as a cohesive unit. With so many people with so many varying backgrounds it is impossible to please everyone. So, with that said, we focus on working with those of like mind that get along together to share information and help each other to make our dreams into realities.

You have assembled a team, called The Digital Brothers, to create animated movies but, also, to create marketing solutions for businesses. One would seem to exclude the other, simply due to resource allotment, but you’re humming along nicely. How is that possible?
The Digital Brothers is where I get to have 100% creative control over developing multimedia. It’s been a source of funding for the other creative endeavors. Earth Squadron on the other hand is a passion project. The original short story was written around 2001. As time went by our skills increased by developing projects for others. Earth Squadron is the resulting product of applying those skills. It’s part of our philosophy of BEING the CHANGE we wish to see in the world.

Besides having a loving family, and an obviously patient wife, you also own Genesis Magazine and its companion radio show and podcast. What made you jump into mainstream media?
After years of not having the positive images in media that we wanted to see we decided to take matters into our own hands. Allot of black people like Sci-Fi but hate the stereotypical renditions of characters that have been presented to us. I think that is precisely why more black people do not embrace it. Who wants to identify with characters that are always killed first, sidekicks, sex toys are the bad guys? So, we took it upon ourselves before it was the in thing to feature and promote talented creators that have been left out of mainstream media.

In your imaginary free time you also attend a lot of conventions, even serving as the Director of The Diversity Track with Dragoncon. How important is face to face communication to you in this digital age?
I think that digital communication has its place but so does a live person. I was privy to work in marketing for seven years. One thing I picked up was that in your marketing plan you should not put all of your eggs in one basket. You should have a mix of digital, print, live, and so on. It is also a great personal experience meeting online friends in person. It creates and additional bond that can last a lifetime.

We spoke before about your work in animated movies. Your next release, Earth Squadron, is getting close to completion. What can you tell us about it?
Yes, I got my feet web working as a voice actor for the animated series Dead Star by Brandon Wright as Corey, an engineer that works on space ships. Also, creating animated promos for businesses has been fun. Earth Squadron is something that we really are excited about these days. It’s sort of like a mashup of X-Men and Independence Day featuring a much more diverse cast including a Black female President. We were able to raise some seed capital to get assets for out mini digital production studio and have been working bit by bit on the movie. With dozens of characters designs, ships and environments it has been a challenge for as our first feature. It has however, been a great experience and it is setting the foundation for what we hope to be many more animated films in the future. The film is set for a 2020 release. We are taking our time to make the best possible product and have sufficient time to market it well to ensure its success.

Back in 2013, in an interview with K. Ceres Wright of Amazing Stories, you touched on a harsh reality, that the things you did had to pay for themselves. How hard has it been to keep an eye on the bottom line while reaching for the stars?
Looking at the bottom line forces you to be even more creative. You don’t have money to waste on unnecessary things. You have to learn to do the very best with what you have. Conversely, someone told me years ago that it takes dough to make bread. This, to me, is also valuable. You have to invest in the things that you believe in. Each project is like one of my kids. You protect and invest in the development of your children and so you should do the same to ensure the success of any project that you undertake.


Elevator Pitches:
Earth Squadron is an action adventure film about what happens when planet Earth’s rejects are the only ones that can save them from ad unknown foe bent on the takeover of all mankind. Will they save them? Should they save them? Stay tuned to find out how this awesome story unfolds. Find out more today at http://www.EarthSquadron.com

The Digital Brothers is a multimedia design company. Our goal is to provide cost effective technological solutions for home, small and big business We provide Web Design, Graphic Design, Photography, Video, Cartoon Animation, 3D Animation, Games Design and Multimedia Development and now 3D Printing. Check us out at http://www.TheDigitalBrothers.com

Genesis Science Fiction Magazine has long been a project that needed to be undertaken. Black people should have avenues to unapologetically share and showcase their thoughts, dreams, and aspirations. Black Science Fiction Society’s flagship print and digital publication will stay true to our goal to create, highlight, celebrate and develop black science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy & horror. By working together we can accomplish great things. Get your copy today at
GenesisScienceFictionMagazine.com

On the Genesis Science Fiction Radio Show, we discuss relevant issues in science fiction from a black perspective. There are numerous creatives who have made awesome products and provide great services that need to be heard. We are the conduit for them to have their work discussed and highlighted.
Our show is live each Friday Night. After each show, the audio is archived for download for those that wish to listen in at their own convenience.

We have over 200 episodes cataloged for your listening pleasure.
Tune in, the show airs: Fridays at 9:00 PM EST, 8:00 PM CST, 7:00 PM MST, 6:00 PM PST
http://www.genesissciencefictionradioshow.com

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